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Alex Saab, the Colombian businessman and Maduro middleman released by Joe Biden

In 2019, Saab was accused of money laundering in Florida. He was arrested in 2020 in the Republic of Cape Verde while on a trip to Iran.

Alex Saab, el colombiano liberado por Joe Biden y principal testaferro de Maduro | AFP

Alex Saab, el colombiano liberado por Joe Biden y principal testaferro de Maduro | AFP

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Joe Biden's released Colombian businessman Alex Saab, accused of acting as a principal middleman for Venezuelan dictator Nicolás Maduro, who is on the United States most-wanted list for drug trafficking. On Wednesday, it was confirmed that Saab had been freed in exchange for several American political prisoners in Venezuela. But what was Saab accused of in the United States?

In 2019, Alex Saab was charged in Florida for money laundering. He was arrested in 2020 in Cape Verde in Africa, just three days after his properties in Colombia, valued at $10 million, were confiscated, according to Infobae. Saab was then extradited to the United States. Prosecutors believe Saab laundered approximately $350 million in the United States for international accounts controlled from Venezuela.

Laundering money for the Venezuelan dictatorship through the United States

The Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) also accused Saab of participating in a large-scale corruption network in order to obtain valuable commercial contracts with the Venezuelan regime. According to the office, the most notable of these high-budget contracts was with the Venezuelan government's local food subsidy program commonly known as CLAP.

"Alex Saab was able to obtain CLAP-related, no-bid and overpriced contracts from high-ranking Venezuelan political figures through a global network of front and shell companies. Instead of ensuring that Venezuela's vulnerable population receives the food they desperately need, the regime uses the CLAP program as a means of social control to reward political support and punish criticism," OFAC explained.

Saab's proximity to Nicolás Maduro

According to the accusation, Saab received another contract from the Venezuelan government in November 2011 to build low-income housing. The defendants and their accomplices then took advantage of the exchange rate controlled by the Venezuelan regime, under which U.S. dollars could be obtained at a favorable rate, by submitting false and fraudulent import documents for goods and materials that were never actually imported into Venezuela.

According to the Treasury Department, Saab's participation in the CLAP program began in 2016, when he organized a corporate structure to acquire food from a foreign distributor and ship it to Venezuela, all at the favorable price for him. Under Maduro's direction, Saab made substantial profits.

"Alex Saab engaged with Maduro insiders to run a wide scale corruption network they callously used to exploit Venezuela’s starving population. Treasury is targeting those behind Maduro’s sophisticated corruption schemes, as well as the global network of shell companies that profit from the former regime’s military-controlled food distribution program," said then-Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.

However, in addition, the Treasury Department detailed that Saab has ties to the children of Maduro's wife, Cilia Flores: Walter, Yosser, Yoswal Flores and Carlos Malpica Flores.

"Saab gave Cilia Adela Flores de Maduro’s (Flores) three sons Walter, Yosser, and Yoswal (also known as “Los Chamos”) and their cousin, Carlos Erica Malpica Flores (Malpica), a contract to clear land for the construction of homes in the Venezuelan State of Vargas," said the department.

Likewise, investigations by several media outlets, such as El Tiempo, detailed that Saab also had links with terrorist groups such as Hezbollah and that he was under scrutiny from Colombian authorities for these ties.